"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, August 27, 2012

Stormy Weather

We did get to ride on Friday after all. It was sunny all day long; Diana swung by my house to pick me up at 3:30pm and we went to the barn. We did all of our chores first and fed the horses their early dinner a little after 4:00pm so we could head to the trails at a reasonable time. Lily was ignoring her early dinner hay and pouting for her beet pulp/grain mix, but I wanted to feed it after we were back. I went into her stall to give her attention, and she became super curious about me, sniffing my face, my neck, my arms, by body all the way down to my toes, and back up again. It took me a minute, but then I remembered I had used a different body lotion that day-it smelled really sweet and fruity. I guess she liked it? She repeated this a couple of times and the look on her face made me laugh. She was pressing her lips together tight in concentration, like "Hmmmmm...This looks like you but it certainly doesn't smell like you."

I took her out of the stall and checked her feet. Her energy was "up", not her usual super calm, laid-back self, and I figured it would be a good idea to lunge her before riding. However, her frogs on both hind feet looked somewhat bruised today-the farrier took off too much frog on her left hind as well! I applied Durasole to her frogs and soles, allowed it to dry, then I took her out to the arena while Diana waited for the other grooming station-Bob's owner was giving him a bath right then. I wanted to do a little groundwork, and then I was planning on letting her work at liberty around the perimeter of the dressage arena. The track around the arena is currently overgrown with weeds and grass from the rain and lack of use, so it's a soft cushy surface for sore feet.

I took the lunge whip with me this time instead of my dressage whip. The last time I worked her with the dressage whip free in the arena, she totally laughed at me and did whatever she wanted. I was also really tired that day, and I know this was also coming into play that time-without the right energy, it is nearly impossible to work a horse properly at liberty, either at close quarters (like in a round pen or the square picadero) or from afar. It is utterly AMAZING what you can do with a sensitive horse from one end of the arena, if you are able to project the right energy. It never ceases to astound me.

On this Friday, I felt that we had graduated to a level of trust where Lily would not run herself into the ground anymore at the sight of a lunge whip in my hand. I was right.

We walked quietly into the center of the arena, to a spot where the footing was softer, and I had her lunge a couple of times in each direction-I just wanted to watch her move, and also to control her warmup. She was definetely sore-she was not tracking up at the trot on her own, so I didn't push her. When I asked her to canter, she leaped into it and did her bycicles in the air (I love when she does this-her front end comes up, her head goes down, and she kicks her front legs forward, doing circles in the air. It reminds me more of a puppy playing than a horse!) which always makes me laugh, and tells me she's in a happy mood. She didn't hold the canter for long, and I didn't ask her to-only a few strides in each direction and that was it. We practiced a couple of changes of direction, where I changed the whip hand and lowered my upper body, and she was keyed into me so that she changed directions without barely missing a beat, without slowing down to a walk like she used to. Very cool. This was probably all a grand total of 5 minutes. I then took off running backwards in a straight line, with still 20m of lunge line between us, and she followed at a jog. I stopped, and she continued to jog, closing the distance and coming to a stop at a respectful 4 feet from me. I let her rest for a minute, patting her, and then practiced some turns on the forehand with her. I had read about this in the 101 Dressage Exercises book. She did it perfectly to the right (with me on her left, gently vibrating the lunge whip towards her hind legs), not so much to the left (with me standing on her right). One of the big things I discovered with Lily's groundwork is that she is decidedly one-sided-it is VERY obvious that in her early training they neglected to work her evenly from both sides, and when she is nervous or confused, she will actually GUARD her right side to keep you from stepping over to that side to ask her to do things. This sometimes makes me wonder if maybe she didn't happen to get beaten from the right side later when the cowboy handled her.

I then removed the lunge line from her halter and stepped back. Lily looked at me for a second, alert, and I pointed towards the arena fence, and she obliged, trotting off towards the wall.

She worked beautifully. I always let her run as much as she wants to, initially, because these are the only times when she can gallop and pick up speed, since our turnouts are small. This is also why I always like to warm her up properly before setting her free-otherwise, I would not have lunged her with sore feet on this day.

Happy canter around the arena.
After galloping and then cantering around, she slowed to a trot, and I asked for changes of direction and transitions from walk to trot to canter and back down again. She was a lot more comfortable on the outside track of the arena, on the grass. During the last few months, she has developed LOVELY transition from walk to trot at liberty, where her back and withers come up as she pushes off into a big snappy trot, and she'll look like a mini upper-level dressage warmblood for a minute, before settling into a long, sweeping trot. She didn't do this today because it involved her pushing with her sore back feet, but she still gave me a nice long trot.
Standardbred trot around the arena

Her natural self-carriage has improved a lot in the last few months, I think

Should I come or should I stay?

I asked her to stop by standing still-as long as she is moving, I'm walking in a smaller circle in the center of the arena. This time, however, she wouldn't come to me-she'd just stand and stare at me. So I'd send her away to work, and try again. She would stop when I did, but still wouldn't come. We tried this a few times, and I must've been doing something different with my body language, because she would not come, even when I tried dropping the whip on the ground before standing still myself. So eventually I just had her stand still for a minute, and then walked over to her, put her regular lead rope on her halter, and we did an old Parelli exercise where I pass the lead rope behind her neck, opposite the side I'm standing on, and move lengthwise towards her rear end. The end result is that she must move forwards and come back to face me-the pressure on the lead rope will bring her back in a half-circle in the opposite direction from me. She used to freak out so much with this exercise, but we have this down to almost a dance-she knows to come back even before feeling the pressure of the lead rope on her halter. It's the best gauge of her mental state: if she is able to do it quietly, without even flinching (sometimes she still does if she's on edge, so we'll have to do it a couple of times to remind her that I'm not going to hurt her), I know she's in a very relaxed state of mind. On this day, she was 100% relaxed.

At that point I stood with her for a minute, and then led her back indoors. I hosed her off-we'd only been out in the arena for about 15 minutes, but there was that pre-storm heat and she had broken a sweat. I sweat-scraped her and tacked her up, still wet, knowing this would keep her more comfortable during the ride.

Dark clouds started to roll in as we made our way down the road to the park. Lily again looked at the clumps of dry, cut grass on the side of the path leading to the park entrance, and leaped over a palm leaf lying on the ground. I took her back to it and made her walk around it until she finally stood with both feet on it and relaxed, while Diana and Bali waited for us patiently. Silly mare.
Scary clumps of dry grass!

Once inside the park, we turned right and took the skinny trails, alternating between walking and trotting. Both Lily and Bali behaved well, despite the wind beginning to pick up and rustling through the treetops.
Bali and Diana take the lead at a trot.
We took turns leading, until we were out by the powerlines again. We crossed the street by the powerlines and headed into the main trails, which were unusually dark from the impending storm. We trotted and even cantered a bit, and took the mares through the handicapped rider's trails, with all of their little obstacles. Lily looked at some of the obstacles more than usual, but did not spook nor startle.

We came out of the main trails with the intention of crossing over the hills by the park pastures before heading home, but a flash of nearby lightning quickly made us change our minds. Instead, we turned back towards the powerlines and walked the rest of the way home. The wind was really picking up then. Thankfully, the two mares remained calm despite all the swirling vegetation around them.
Storm rolling in

The wind whipping through the tall grass by the powerlines

Diana and Bali :)
As we were reaching the end of the powerlines, I saw something dark jumping through the tall grass, and realized it was a loose dog. I have issues with dogs being off-leash around horses, and it is not allowed at the park. A couple of weeks ago, a couple of loose dogs almost caused a massive accident, spooking a group of riders on a guided trail ride on the park horses. Luckily nobody was hurt. This time, the dog belonged to a couple who had both of their dogs off-leash. I cursed out loud and it must've carried in the wind, because they immediately picked up their other dog, a beagle, and started looking for the black dog that had escaped. They made it all the way to the end of the powerlines with us, and they still hadn't found their second dog. That's what happens when you let your dog off leash, people.

Back in Puerto Rico people were not very good about keeping their dogs inside their houses or even confined to their yards. Loose dogs were a problem-they would chase cars, people, and horses. Thankfully, Lucero, my Paso Fino, was very brave, and I trained him to swing around and chase any dog that came up on our heels. He eventually learned to do it on his own, without a signal from me, and we were always lucky that the dogs never stood their ground.

Lily does like to chase things when I ask her to so far, but I don't know if she'd be willing to chase after an aggressive, barking dog. 

The rest of the ride back home was uneventful. Back at the barn, we rode into the arena to dismount as more lightning flashed in the distance. At that instant, Oreo came tearing out of the barn in a mad dash towards the far wall of the arena, with one of the brown tabbies in close pursuit. I don't like that tabby-she bullies Oreo constantly, and she used to pick fights with Smiles, Judy's barn kitty before Oreo.

Oreo leaped on the wall about 8 feet away from Lily and me, and the other cat stopped in her tracks when she saw Lily. I kicked Lily into a canter from a standstill and we took off after the tabby, chasing her out of the arena, away from Oreo. Lily received a big pat from me, and I hopped off.

We didn't hose the mares off, as they had barely broken a sweat. Instead, we untacked them and turned them out in the arena with little Willy to graze while we picked their stalls. The storm was holding and the lightning sirens had not sounded from the park, so it was still far away. The horses got to graze for about an hour before we brought them back in.

The first rain bands from Isaac were supposed to start coming that night, so we left all the horses inside for the night.

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